After the first debate, I didn't have a strong sense of who won. This time I do: Obama crushed McCain.
I'll predict that two things broke through. First, Obama constantly invoked the lived experience of Americans and explained how his proposals would relate to them. McCain hardly ever did this--even when he got specific, like on pork barrel spending, he did not relate it to peoples' lives. Second, McCain was just nasty--calling Obama "that one," and delivering zingers like "Did we hear the size of the fine" with a smile so forced it looked like it would break his face.
More substantively, Obama absolutely crushed McCain on tax cuts for the rich, budgetary priorities, and health care. He clearly explained why McCain's health care deregulation will hurt people.
The best exchange of the night came on Pakistan. Obama lucked out by getting a question where he's tougher on al Qaeda than McCain--the perfect antidote to McCain's attempts to paint him as an America-hater who coddles terrorists. Obama stated his position well, but failed to contrast it with McCain by explaining how McCain had attacked him for saying he would take action against al Qaeda. Then McCain stepped right into a trap. First, he accused Obama of "talking loudly"--an accusation so clearly at odds with Obama's demeanor that it couldn't possibly have hit home. Then Obama replied that, contrary to McCain's claim of speaking softly, he has made bellicose declarations about Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.
I'm often frustrated when I watch these debates because the candidate I want to win failed to make the points that occurred to me as I watched. I have never seen a stronger performance than the one Obama gave tonight. I'm very bad at judging how something will play with the public, so I could be wrong yet again. But in substance, in demeanor, in the clarity of his replies, this was a rout.